Thursday, October 2, 2008


Clint Eastwood probably killed more of Adolf Hitler's German soldiers in director Brian G. Hutton's "Where Eagles Dare" (**** out of ****) than he did western outlaws as either Sergio Leone's Man with No Name in the "Dollars" trilogy or criminals as "Dirty Harry" in his five Warner Brothers crime movies. Bestselling British author Alistair MacLean penned the splendid screenplay that he later converted into a much tamer novel about a team of elite British M.I. 6 secret agents that parachute into Germany to rescue one of the top-ranking officers with a mother lode of knowledge about the June 6th Normandy landings. This MGM blockbuster that runs 158 minutes is probably the greatest action-adventure movie with a World War II setting ever produced. We're talking wall-to-wall gunfire with more surprises and complications than most movies ever attempt. Richard Burton and Eastwood as in top form and they get considerable help and guidance from busty Ingrid Pitt and Mary Ure as undercover female agents. "Where Eagles Dare" is also notable for its percussive orchestral soundtrack by composer Rod Goodwin, who carved a niche for himself in World War II movie soundtracks with "633 Squadron," "Force 10 from Navarone," "Operation Crossbow," and "The Battle of Britain." Some war movies take an anti-war stance, but neither Hutton nor MacLean had higher ideals on their collective minds when they made this war-as-an-adventure epic. If you are a World War II movie buff and you haven't seen "Where Eagles Dare," then you need to get yourself a copy of this memorable massacre.

Admiral Rolland (Michael Hordern of "Royal Flash") sends a group of British commandos on a suicidal mission to rescue U.S.A.F.F. General George Carnaby, (Robert Beatty of "2001: A Space Odyssey") one of the overall coordinators of planning for the second front who is imprisoned in an impregnable mountain fortress called the Schloss Adler, a.k.a 'the Castle of the Eagles.' As it turns out, the Schloss Adler is the headquarters for the German Secret Service in Southern Bavaria. Colonel Wyatt Turner, DSO MC (Patrick Wymark of "The League of Gentlemen") informs them that the castle is named appropriately "because only an eagle can get to it." Apparently, on a night flight to Crete, Carnaby's British Mosquito was shot down by a wandering Luftwaffe Messerschmitt and the Mosquito crashed in near the town of Werfen. Major Jonathan Smith (Richard Burton of "Raid on Rommel"), Lieutenant Morris Schaffer (Clint Eastwood of "Kelly's Heroes"), Captain James Christiansen (Donald Houston of "633 Squadron"), Sergeant Harrod (Brook Williams of "The Wild Geese"), Captain Philip Thomas (William Squire of "Alexander the Great"), Sergeant Jock MacPherson (Neil McCarthy of "Zulu"), and Edward Berkeley (Peter Barkworth of "Seven Keys") are to parachute into Germany, enter the castle and snatch Carnaby.

One of the sergeants suggests at the briefing that the R.A.F. fill a bomb-laden plane and crash it into the mountain fortress. Rolland reminds him that killing an American general might anger General Eisenhower. No sooner have our heroes bailed out than one of them, the radio operator, is found dead in the snow with a broken neck. The Gestapo raids a tavern in Werfen and arrests the rest and takes them separately for questioning. Smith and Schaffer are hauled away together, but they manage to escape after their car crashes. Smith and Schaffer then climb atop the cable car that ascends to the Schloss Adler. Simultaneous, one of their undercover agents, Mary Ure, is being escorted by a suave but sadistic Gestapo officer in the cable car to work in the castle.

Once our heroes have gotten into the castle, Smith interrupts a meeting between high ranking German officers and General Carnaby. Smith proves beyond a doubt to SS-Standartenf├╝hrer Kramer (Anton Diffring of "Heroes of the Telemark") and Gen. Rosemeyer (Ferdy Mayne of "The Fearless Vampire Killers") that he is a double-agent working for the Nazis as well as the British with a night-time call to another high-ranking German general.

Eventually, when it comes time to break out of the castle, Smith relies on Schaffer who plasters the place with trip-wire explosives. Once the Nazis realize what is going on, all hell breaks loose. "Where Eagles Dare" the movie surpasses MacLean's own novel; he wrote the screenplay and he provides Richard Burton with some of the greatest lines that you'll ever hear in the World War II movie. Indeed, "Where Eagles Dare" is the best World War II thriller that Burton and Eastwood ever made, with Burton making more W.W. II thrillers than Eastwood. The rest of the cast is first-rate and composer Rod Goodwin of "633 Squadron" provides a memorable score that ramps up the action and intrigue. At 158 minutes, "Where Eagles Dare" never lets up on either action or excitement. The surprises that crop up in the narrative match the sizzling action sequences. Clearly, this is Brian Hutton's most memorable film, far better than the action comedy romp that he went on to direct "Kelly's Heroes" with Clint Eastwood after "Where Eagles Dare" wrapped. For the record, the propeller driven plane that appears during the opening credits is vintage Nazi plane. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the fighter planes that Smith and Schaffer blow up in the last major shoot out sequence.

Hollywood has yet to equal "Where Eagles Dare."

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